It’s a new year, and I am reflecting on the nature of my relationship with creativity. I’m learning to fall in love with reading again in the hopes that it will lead me back to writing. That was the case for me when I was younger. I read so much that the words tumbled out onto my own page with relative ease. Of course, writing and reading were both coping mechanisms for a rather gentle-natured child who did her best to handle the emotions of those around her. In any case, we are approaching the first anniversary of the Bug Eyes recording, which was released in November to surprising success. I say surprising not because the album isn’t good but because I am not as familiar with the feeling of success as I’d like to be.
I want to tell you how great it was to finish the final mix, but I can’t. Because I didn’t listen to it, not seriously. Listening to my own voice was difficult, which resulted in my backing away from the sound mastering. The majority of the production selections came down to what Richie thought was best. I trusted him because he cares about music and sound in a way that I have never seen in anyone else. He was the one who bounced between his apartment and car to make sure that the quality of my voice could be appreciated on both good and bad speakers.
When we had the final album in hand, we knew we wanted to do a proper release, which meant getting cover art. There was really only one person I could think of, and not because we are friends. I approached Elizabeth Noble about doing a piece because her work is stunning. I encourage everyone to look at and purchase her art. We sent her the album, and she sent us a rough sketch about a day later. It was perfect.
With such a professional-looking cover, we went on to step things up with an illustrated manuscript. But even that didn’t seem quite enough since Bug Eyes is all about a young woman who does not experience the world through sight but through scent. Fortunately for us, our dear friend and owner of Oswald & Ari Soy Candles, Casey Burke, was more than happy to create a special line of candles for us. At the near end of a very long year, we were able to release an album, a book, and a candle line meant to envelop a listener is an experience designed to soothe.
It’s better that Richie watch our stream numbers and I don’t. I obsess over attention, wring my hands over whether or not enough people read my work, lament when one of my posts doesn’t receive the feedback I want. After the album release announcement, I couldn’t help but compulsively check Facebook to see what sort of reaction we were getting. The post got fewer likes than a profile picture update I had put out a month earlier. It’s hard to feel as if your art matters when people only seem to care about whether or not you are adhering to the expectations of your gender. People go gangbusters for engagement announcements. People do not know what to make of your art, even though my announcing Bug Eyes felt akin to announcing that we had had a child. This collaborative album is a fully-formed effort, created in about nine months, that people didn’t really seem to care about. Maybe people don’t know how to care about this kind of work.
But that’s not true. People did care about Bug Eyes, do care about. Friends and old acquaintances alike reached out to me about how beautiful they thought the story was, what a trip it had been to hear my voice after so many years. Bug Eyes was heart-breaking, nostalgic, seductive, triumphant. A friend told me that people in grade school had called her “bug eyes” and that it had caused a major confidence deficit within her. Having a new association with the term “bug eyes” was a step in a healing direction. Real art helps people feel things that they didn’t even know they needed to feel. Who am I to deny the impact that our album had when people come to me and say things like that? So I won’t. Our project is impactful.
Bug Eyes will forever be special to me. It was created during one of the brightest and darkest moments in my life. I got to breathe into this story with the man I love, which has helped us become better partners and better artists. Something that surprised me the most about my work is how fierce I have grown over it. It still makes me upset that people care more about my marital status than they do my work. I feel like that’s just generally true about how the public views artists. The art that people make seems entirely consumable, easy to dispose of without fully digesting. However, I think something we all have come to realize in the middle of this never-ending pandemic is just how important art is. Music, theater, paintings, movies, everything—those are the beautiful things that have kept you going this last year, and don’t pretend that it isn’t. Art keeps life interesting. If there is any art that you have consumed and has made an impact on your life, find a way to feed that artist so that they can continue to make art.
Art was important yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Support artists. Show up for artists. Tell people about your favorite new underground musician. Buy a ticket to some kind of virtual show. Attend a poetry reading. Donate to an artist foundation that supports BIPOC artists of all kinds. Buy my album. Support my friends. Stop passively consuming work that took years to put together, and digest it. Sit with it. Let art make your life a little more beautiful and engaged.